Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows! The Master of Darkness battles global crime conspiracies in two classic pulp novels by Walter B. Gibson writing as "Maxwell Grant." Following the departure of Commissioner Weston, The Shadow attempts to prevent a Wall Street crisis brought on by "The Garaucan Swindle," in the pulp classic that introduced Police Commissioner Wainwright Barth. Then, The Shadow must find a way to stop the secret gas that causes "The Death Sleep" to prevent a criminal plot to crack the United States Mint and the Bank of London. This instant collector's item reprints both classic pulp covers by George Rozen plus the original interior illustrations of Tom Lovell, with historical commentary by Will Murray.
John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #69
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
"The Garaucan Swindle" was originally published in the September 15, 1934 issue of The Shadow Magazine. An entire nation's economy was in peril. Millions were at stake - but to The Shadow, it was a matter of lives and reputations, not money, that was involved.
This is the pulp the relates the story of why Police Commissioner Ralph Weston left Manhattan for South America. If you've read some of the early stories, you know that for a period of time, Commissioner Weston was replaced by Wainwright Barth. And if you're like me, you've wondered why. What were the details which motivated Weston to leave? Now it can be told!
There was a massive swindle in the small South American country of Garauca. The president and virtual dictator of the country was a devious and evil man by the name of Birafel. President Birafel was looting his country's treasury. One of his schemes was to float a huge bond issue... bonds that weren't backed by anything and were worthless. Many millions of dollars worth of these bonds found their way to America where they were snapped up by innocent investors who thought they had great value.
President Birafel's entire scheme collapsed when his regime was overthrown, and he fled office. The country of Garauca was unsettled. Cabinet members took over the government after the flight of President Birafel. To bring stability to the country, the new government looked outside the country for a new Chief of the National Police. They looked to America to find someone above reproach who the local citizenry could finally trust. Someone who could track down and prosecute those involved in the massive swindle.
The government of Garauca selected Ralph Weston as their new Chief of National Police. He was honored and flattered, and could hardly say no. So he left the country for Garauca for an unspecified time, so as to put the country of Garauca in order. In his place, he left Wainwright Barth, the new commissioner of New York Police.
It's in this new Shadow mystery novel that we first meet tall and stoop-shouldered, Wainwright Barth. He had the face and beak of a bald eagle. His head seemed to project upward and forward from his body. His eyes glistened through the lenses of pince-nez spectacles. His bald pate shone from above a fringe of gray hair. This, then, was the new commissioner and Joe Cardona's new boss.
Wainwright Barth was selected partly because he was an ex-banker of repute. Also, he was an administrator who had been passed over for the job when Weston had been appointed some years earlier. It was finally Barth's turn. But now it was his job to solve the case of the bogus Garaucan bonds in New York, while Weston worked on the other side of the case in South America.
Even before his appointment to the position of the new Police Commissioner, Barth had been a member of the Cobalt Club, and knew Lamont Cranston. In this story, he and Cranston become closer friends. He takes Weston's advice and harkens to the advice given by Cranston. But we know, of course, that the real Cranston is somewhere else about the globe, and the Cranston whose advice Barth seeks is really The Shadow.
Barth gets the facts misinterpreted to the point of arresting the wrong persons. It's only The Shadow who can set things straight. It's only The Shadow who can reveal the master brain in America who has profited hugely from the fake bonds. It's only The Shadow who can track down the vague leads to their source, and bring justice to those swindled out of their life's savings.
But the burning question is, "is it any good?" Well, not as good as it could have been. For one thing, no part of the story takes place in the country of Garauca. Once ex-Commissioner Weston leaves on the ship bound for the South American country, the story stays in Manhattan and focuses on the American side of the swindle. At the end of the story we are told that Weston has arrested all the crooks left over from the Birafel regime and has quieted all the factions in the country. But it's only a passing comment. It would have been nice to actually read some of Weston's adventures.
As for the dictator President Birafel himself, we never learn his fate. Did Weston capture him along with his underlings? We are left to assume so, but it's never explicitly stated. Future magazine stories never made any reference to him, either, so the matter is never specifically resolved.
Another problem with this story is that much of it apparently has nothing to do with the Garaucan swindle. It's all about the break-in of a bank vault and the tracking down of the guilty parties. It's only at the end of the story that author Walter Gibson ties up the loose ends and we discover how the bank vault robbery had anything to do with the bond swindle. From the reader's standpoint, it's as though Weston leaves the country and the whole case is dropped. Instead, The Shadow goes on to concentrate on other crime. It's almost by accident that the crime he chooses to investigate turns out to be related to the swindle.
And then there's the matter of Claire Hildreth. She is brought into the story as niece of one of the bankers. We keep expecting her to get used in some manner. But no. She appears quite often, but never does anything. She never helps The Shadow. She is never put in peril and requires rescuing. She never advances the plot in any way. The last time we see her is in the final gunfray. She wanders into the midst of it. And then, we hear nothing more of her. She isn't put in jeopardy. She doesn't save anyone. She just stands at the side of the room, and then is never mentioned again. Most puzzling, that.
There are some nice touches in the story. The Shadow gets to showcase his ability at picking locks. He uses his special pick constructed of blackened metal, darkened so as not to betray any hint of light reflecting from its surface.
The Shadow gets to use his ability at disguise. Not only does he appear in disguise as millionaire Lamont Cranston, but he also garbs himself as a taxi driver in one scene. And he's never recognized.
There's an interesting twist in that the bad guys always probe their dead victims' bodies for the slugs before making a hasty exit. As Cardona later explains, "Revolver bullets are as good as finger prints. Better." So rather than leave behind incriminating evidence, the crooks hang around long enough to remove them.
The Shadow is rather cold blooded in this story. He coerces a dying criminal to write out a confession. "Write as I command. Unless you prefer to die." So the guy does as ordered, and then he dies, anyway. Getting the confession was important, but threatening him with death when he was already doomed seems a bit cold.
This story features The Shadow in his usual guise as Lamont Cranston, both the old and new police commissioners, Ralph Weston and Wainwright Barth, Detective Joe Cardona and Detective Sergeant Markham, and The Shadow's agents Harry Vincent, Cliff Marsland, Clyde Burke and contact man Burbank.
Overall I found this to be an enjoyable Shadow mystery novel. Certainly not one of the best, since 1934 was an excellent year for The Shadow. But it keeps moving and your interest will rarely wane. And it's a key story in the history of The Shadow, in that Commissioner Weston makes his temporary departure.
So, this story gets my guarded recommendation. Liked it; didn't love it.
"The Death Sleep" was originally published in the October 15, 1934 issue of The Shadow Magazine. Four people were the first to become the living dead, but they wouldn't be the last. Crimedom had a new weapon, one which could inflict a death sleep upon unwary victims. And only The Shadow had a chance of thwarting this diabolical scheme.
As our story opens, two couples are sitting around a card table in Seth Tanning's apartment. Outside in the hall, Clark Doring and his wife arrive and knock on the door. Sounds of merriment come from inside, indicating the party has started without them. Doring knocks louder, when suddenly all sounds from inside cease. There's no response; something is wrong.
The police are called. They arrive and have to smash down the door. Inside the apartment sit the four people at the card table. Each is absolutely rigid - as stony as a statue. They're not dead; they are asleep. It's a sleep from which they cannot be roused. The death sleep!
Acting Inspector Joe Cardona is in charge, and has the four victims taken to the Talleyrand Hospital, nearby. A specialist in paralysis and sleeping sickness is called in. He determines that, yes, the four are alive. But they can't be awakened. What has happened? What has caused this strange malady? The Shadow steps in to find out. For The Shadow realizes that this bizarre condition, whatever it is, would make a horrible weapon in the hands of criminals. And that's exactly what has happened.
Crooks headed by Wolf Barlan, infamous racketeer, have stolen a secret gas that causes the sleeping death. The inventor, a chemist by the name of Troxton Valdan, has developed this mysterious gas for use as a war weapon. But while Valdan was out of town, criminals have broken into his laboratory and stolen his secret gas. They are about to use it to initiate a crime wave such as the nation has never seen. Nothing can stop them. Gas masks seem ineffective. Crime on an unprecedented scale is on the brink of execution. The crooks have ambitious plans, including using the sleeping death to crack the United States Mint and the Bank of London! Only The Shadow can stop them!
The first step for The Shadow is to contact the inventor, when he returns from parts unknown, and find out how to combat the paralyzing vapors. But he's thwarted in that goal when the crooks beat him to Troxton Valdan. They leave Valdan dead, and place the blame on The Shadow! Yes, things are looking mighty grim for our hero. But The Shadow of 1934 was a mighty antagonist who was up to the impossible task.
This version of The Shadow from the early years could do just about anything. His abilities were nearly superhuman. He was invincible. And he was bloodthirsty. This is The Shadow who shoots to kill, not wound. And bodies of lowly thugs begin to stack up like cordwood. This was not the tamer Shadow from the 1940's. It was the 1934 Shadow whose abilities were at their peak.
At this point in The Shadow's chronology, he hasn't acquired his full team of secret agents, yet. But of course there's Harry Vincent as well as contact-man Burbank, both of whom have been with him since the pulp series began in 1931. Clyde Burke, reporter for the New York Classic, also appears. And, since there is a strong medical component to this story, Doctor Rupert Sayre, The Shadow's personal physician, makes a requisite appearance. Stock broker Rutledge Mann shows up, as does underworld contact Cliff Marsland.
As a master of disguise, The Shadow uses his mastery of the art to infiltrate the gang of crooks who are using the sleeping gas. So as not to spoil the ending, I won't reveal which character he disguises himself as. He also appears in his favorite disguise as Lamont Cranston. That's because the real Cranston is currently out of the country, journeying somewhere in the vicinity of Timbuktu.
Cranston's chauffeur Stanley also appears. Stanley wasn't technically an agent of The Shadow. In fact, he didn't know The Shadow even existed, apart from vague rumors reported in the newspapers. But still, he aided The Shadow many times without knowing it, as he took directions from the man whom he believed to be his employer.
The police commissioner in this story is Wainwright Barth. This story was written during the period when author Walter Gibson had Ralph Weston spending time down in South America. And while Weston was unavailable, ex-banker Wainwright Barth took over as commissioner. Joe Cardona is no longer a detective in this story; under Barth's administration, he's now an acting inspector.
Many of the famous trappings associated with The Shadow make an appearance in this story. Chauffeur Stanley drives Cranston's limousine, described here as a magnificent "foreign" limousine. And in the back is hidden the black cloak and accoutrements of The Shadow. The Shadow gets to use those suction cups that help him scale the outside walls of buildings. They had first appeared two years earlier in "The Crime Cult." This time he attaches the four rubber discs to his hands and feet to climb up to a third floor window.
We get to visit some familiar haunts, including the underworld dive down by the waterfront known as The Black Ship. We even get a quick visit to an adjoining section of The Shadow's sanctum that is rarely seen: his black-walled laboratory. He goes there to make some chemical tests on the new sleeping gas.
This pulp mystery is another of those really cool ones from the early years. It's a roller coaster ride from the beginning scenes where the sleeping death is first discovered, right up to the chilling climax in the gangsters' underground hideout. You can't go wrong with this early Shadow adventure.
John Olsen was first introduced to The Shadow in the early 1960's, tuning in to rebroadcasts of his adventures on KEX radio in Portland, Oregon. Several years later, John was drawn to a hardback book entitled "The Weird Adventures of The Shadow," containing three Shadow novels reprinted from the old pulp magazines. The pulp Shadow was a far different character from the beloved radio version, but the stories drew him in and opened his eyes to a richer version of the hero. Today, John is retired in Sherwood, Oregon. He has read all 325 of the old Shadow pulp mysteries and enjoys them so much that, as of this writing, he is well over half way through reading them all again for a second time.